Racing: Mufhasa ready for spring campaign

By Michael Guerin

Perennial spring favourite Mufhasa will again be on hand to usher in the new season's group one racing at Hastings in September. Photo / Supplied
Perennial spring favourite Mufhasa will again be on hand to usher in the new season's group one racing at Hastings in September. Photo / Supplied

Stephen McKee plans to launch two weapons on the Australian spring riches and believes the far-lesser-known one could be the most devastating.

The South Auckland trainer is thrilled with New Zealand racing's ultimate warrior Mufhasa as he prepares for his 8-year-old season, which could comprise two starts in New Zealand before he returns to Melbourne.

"He looks great, the big fella," said McKee.

"Very thick, as you wouldn't expect from a horse his age, but he comes to hand very quickly and he is where he needs to be."

Mufhasa will contest the 1400m opening leg of the Hawkes Bay triple crown on September 1, a race he won last year at his third attempt.

"He will probably go to Ruakaka for a gallop between races a couple of weeks before that," said McKee.

"Second up, he will tackle the mile race at Hastings before we head to Melbourne."

While Mufhasa produced some of his best career performances in Australia last season, McKee knows repeating that will not be easy.

"Not only is he a year older but there is a whole new crop of youngsters [coming] through.

"But the Toorak at Caulfield is his main aim because he won it last season and it has a 58kg maximum."

While Mufhasa will arrive in Australia with an army of fans, McKee is hoping to spring one of the surprises of the Sydney spring with forgotten filly Pussy Willow, a daughter of O'Reilly.

She was brilliant winning both her juvenile starts this season, coming from near last to claim the $85,000 Wakefield Stakes at Trentham in January.

Pussy Willow was found to have a bone chip in her fetlock soon after which ended her season but she is being aimed at the elite level this campaign.

"I think she is pretty special," says the man not known for getting carried away with the equine talent.

"So we aren't going to muck around here early next season.

"She might have a race on a good track here somewhere next month but then she will be heading to Sydney."

Owners Sir Patrick and Lady Hogan and Peter Walker want Australian black type for Pussy Willow and McKee believes that is realistic.

"She made it hard on herself last season with her racing style and it is hard to win in Australia at that level when you get back.

"But she is coming up well and her main aim in Sydney will be the Flight Stakes.

"That isn't until the first week of October so she will have two or three lead-up options before it.

"If something goes wrong she can always come back here and we can change tack for the 1000 Guineas at Riccarton."

However, one of McKee's stars who won't be seen until later is outstanding 3-year-old Knight's Tour.

He beat Ocean Park and Burgundy winning the Great Northern Guineas on Boxing Day but was galloped on when winning at Ellerslie on Karaka Million night a month later.

That ended his season when he was looming as a serious Telecom Derby player and he has undergone intensive treatment on the damaged tendon.

"I really rated him but it was a decent setback he had.

"So I am taking things really quietly with him and I think the earliest you will see him is November," said McKee.

KING RETURNS

* Galloping great Mufhasa is looking good in his new preparation.
* His first start back will be the 1400m group one he won at Hastings last season.
* He will then head to Melbourne to defend his Toorak Handicap title.
* Trainer Stephen McKee has huge hopes for juvenile filly Pussy Willow.

- NZ Herald

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